For the Muslim Brotherhood, the long awaited dream come true is turning into a
nightmare. Having survived 80 years of persecution to achieve power
democratically, they suddenly find themselves the focus of widespread popular
Never have Egyptians been in such dire economic
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, however, is not about to give
up and make way for new presidential elections. The Brotherhood will spare no
effort to stay in power.
Such is the depth of the economic, social and
political crisis that the threat of civil war appears all too real.
commentators believe the army won’t let things go that far and will step in;
however the road back to recovery and a civilian regime accepted by all will be
long and arduous.
Civil disobedience is rampant.
In Port Said the
police have disappeared from the streets and the army called in to maintain law
and order. Indeed here and there people are petitioning the courts to appoint
popular Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to rule Egypt in Morsi’s stead.
They know it won’t happen but are trying to make a point. Demonstrations calling
for getting rid of Morsi and of the Brotherhood are held on a daily basis in
Cairo and in cities all over the country. They are met by militant groups of the
Brotherhood. Dozens have died and thousands were wounded in the resulting
clashes though both sides are trying not to let the violence
The economy is in shambles.
In a remarkable and enduring
show of unity, non-Islamic opposition parties under the banner of the National
Salvation Front are boycotting the regime until their demands – canceling the
Islamic constitution and setting up a consensus government until new elections
are held – are met.
The Muslim Brotherhood who had won a sweeping victory
in the first free parliamentary elections and got their candidate elected
president have bitterly disappointed the people who had put their faith in
Nothing has been done to improve their lot. Upon taking office
Morsi had promised – and failed – to take care of five burning issues within a
hundred days: growing insecurity, monster traffic jams in the capital, lack of
fuel and cooking gas, lack of subsidized bread, and the mounting piles of refuse
in the streets.
The president’s high-handed attempt to take over all
legislative powers and grant himself full immunity provoked such an outcry that
he had to back down. He sacked the prosecutor-general and appointed a new one –
only to have his decision overthrown by the Cairo Court of Cassation last week,
throwing the judicial system into disarray.
It seems that such unwise and
unpopular moves were taken without prior consultations with his advisers and
that in fact it was the Supreme Guidance Bureau of the Brotherhood which had
urged Morsi to do so. In other words, the president is acting as a proxy for the
Dissatisfaction is now evident everywhere. Elections held in
students’ union throughout the country saw Brotherhood candidates defeated by
independent candidates. Worse, elections to the key Journalists’ Syndicate saw
the victory of Diaa Rashwan, head of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic
studies and bitter opponent of the Brotherhood.
In other words the
movement is losing both the youth and the elites.
Yet the regime plods on
as if unaware of the fact that times have changed and that people are no longer
afraid to take to the streets to fight for the future of their
On the contrary, Morsi is hard at work appointing as many of his
men as he can everywhere, from national to regional and local positions
supervising everything from public order to food distribution – such as it is –
under his direct orders.
Clearly, he is here to stay.
Army no longer refusing Islamic candidates
In a new and
startling development, he is now turning to the army. For the first time since
Nasser ruled, the army academy is no longer refusing Islamic
Then of course there is the legislation. The lower house of
parliament has been disbanded by the courts because of widespread electoral
fraud, so Morsi gave temporary legislative powers to the upper house “Shura
These powers were supposed to be used for urgent legislation;
however taking advantage of the solid Islamic majority – 80 percent Muslim
Brotherhood and Salafists – Morsi is pushing through laws organizing the next
elections, restraining the right to strike and to demonstrate; in the wings are
stringent laws regulating NGOs – including a special provision legalizing the
Brotherhood – a movement banned by Nasser. This was needed because the advisory
board of the High Administrative Court had declared the movement illegal and
recommended that it be disbanded.
Within two days of the ruling a new law
had been drafted and is now awaiting the verdict of the High Constitutional
Court. The problem is that the Brotherhood has since its inception refused to
divulge the list of its members and the origin of its funds – two requirements
for registering a movement.
While feminist organizations are
demonstrating against repeated violence against women and fatwas encouraging
such violence, the Brotherhood posted on its official website a condemnation of
the recent UN resolution on the rights of women “because it is in violation of
Currency shortage threatens petrol, food imports
Strangely enough, while the level of violence in the
streets is steadily rising, the president has nothing to say.
It is as if
the Brotherhood had adopted the motto “least said, soonest mended” and had
decided to keep a low profile in the hope of seeing the protests die a natural
death as protesters get tired or lose hope.
Yet there is no sign of it
happening anytime soon. In the wake of the last round of violence around the
Brotherhood’s Cairo headquarters, Morsi did warn that if “hooliganism” did not
stop, harsh measures would be taken. His warning only added fuel to the fire,
resulting in new clashes and more wounded.
In the meantime, currency
reserves are bleeding, there may be soon not enough money to pay for imports of
petrol and basic food supplies.
Subsidizing these items accounts for 25
percent of the country’s budget. Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Libya did extend
substantial help, but it all went to subsidies and imports. None of the long
overdue economic reforms have been launched. Without these reforms the
International Monetary Fund is withholding the $4.8 billion loan Egypt
desperately needs; there is also the small problem of the interest to be paid;
Islamic circles are vehemently opposing any form of interest, which they said is
prohibited by Shari’a law.
Unless and until a solution is found, Western
countries will not lend any money to Egypt.
Power failures are getting
more frequent, queues for petrol and cooking gas longer and food is
Investors have fled, tourists are scared. Hunger riots may not be
far off. Yet the Brotherhood surges blindly on, not ready to let go of the
golden prize achieved after nearly a century. And so the standoff goes on
between the regime and the opposition, while quicksand threatens to engulf them
The writer, a fellow of The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is
a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.